New coach Bielsa says Uruguay can dream of return to greatness
Uruguay have sufficient quality to allows them to dream of success, iconic new coach Marcelo Bielsa said on Wednesday as he was officially presented to the press.
Known as "El Loco" (the madman), the 67-year-old is widely considered as one of football's most influential coaches, even though his trophy cabinet is relatively bare compared to other greats of the game, such as Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti or Jose Mourinho.
Bielsa's long-expected signature had created great excitement in Uruguay over the past month, following an underwhelming group stage exit at last year's World Cup in Qatar, after which Diego Alonso did not renew his contract.
But despite the international retirements of star attacking duo Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, Bielsa is convinced the current crop of players from the tiny South American country of just 3.5 million people can bring back the glory years.
Uruguay fans can feed their dreams of glory on the basis of their "top level players," he told reporters at the Centenario stadium in central Montevideo.
Bielsa claimed he turned down much more lucrative offers from club sides to take over the reins at the two-time World Cup winners, whose last global triumph was in 1950.
"One of the main things that I took into account was that no club would have been able to offer me a group of players like those that Uruguay have right now," he said.
The new generation of stars includes Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde, forward Darwin Nunez of Liverpool and Barcelona centre-back Ronald Araujo.
Despite his lofty standing in the game, three Argentine titles with Newell's Old Boys (two) and Velez Sarsfield, Olympic gold with Argentina's under-23 side and a Championship crown with Leeds United are his only trophies.
Yet Guardiola himself has described Bielsa as "the best coach in the world."
"I've never coached one of the 20 biggest clubs in the world and they've never approached me," explained Bielsa.
"I'm not one of the greats."
- Acrimonious departures -
Bielsa pointed to Uruguay's record under iconic veteran coach Oscar Tabarez, who won the 2011 Copa America a year after reaching the World Cup semi-finals, as superior to his achievements with Argentina and Chile.
But Bielsa's high-tempo attacking style has always proved a hit with fans.
He has signed a contract through to the end of the qualification campaign for the 2026 World Cup, which will be automatically extended to include the tournament if Uruguay qualify.
His first matches in charge will be a pair of friendlies against Nicaragua and Cuba in June before taking on his former employers Chile in Uruguay's opening World Cup qualifier in September.
Born into a bourgeois family in Rosario, the home town of Lionel Messi, Bielsa had a short playing career as a centre-back before retiring at just 25 to take up coaching.
After success with Newell's and Velez, he took over the national team reins in 1998.
In 2004 he guided Argentina to the Copa America final and won the Olympic Games with the under-23 outfit, which included Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano and Gabriel Heinze.
From there he had a successful stint at Athletic Bilbao, guiding the Basques to the Spanish Cup and Europa League finals in 2012, even beating Alex Ferguson's Manchester United home and away in Europe.
After that he made more of a name for himself for his acrimonious departures following highly public disagreements with the hierarchies at his clubs.
He left Marseille one game into his second season, spent just two days in charge of Lazio and lasted only 14 matches with Lille.